Larix occidentalis “Western Larch” Pinaceae

Seeley Lake, MT
September 13, 2014
Robert Niese

 

Larch cones are simply beautiful. Two small, winged seeds hide beneath each scale, waiting to be dispersed on the wind as they fall to the ground when the cone matures. Each scale also bears a single long, pointed bract, giving the cone a delicate, yet spiky appearance. This particular cone also bears many resin crystals which may have been produced by damage from seed predators such as Red Crossbills. If you ever have the opportunity to visit the Seeley Lake region in the late summer or early fall, you would not be disappointed. These deciduous conifers transform into golden spires that light-up our mountainsides in a spectacular patchwork of fiery pillars scattered among rich, evergreen firs and pines. It is unlike any fall scenery anywhere else in the world.

Juniperus scopulorum “Rocky Mountain Juniper” Cupressaceae

Salmon-Challis National Forest, ID
March 19, 2015
Robert Niese

Recent genetic evidence suggests that the Puget Sound populations of Juniperus scopulorum are actually a separate species (J. maritimus), although the two are nearly impossible to distinguish morphologically. The berries of both species are not particularly palatable, but make a good laxative.

Pseudotsuga menziesii “Douglas Fir” Pinaceae

Tacoma, WA
May 18, 2013
Robert Niese

A Pacific Northwest Indian legend explains where the Doug-fir got its unmistakable leafy bracts (in between the scales of the cone), suggesting that, long ago during an intense fire, tiny mice seeking shelter from the flames hid themselves between the scales of the Doug-fir cones. Today we see their tiny tails and back feet poking out of the cones!

Larix occidentalis “Western Larch” Pinaceae (cone with evidence of seed predation by Tamiasciurus hudsonicus Red Squirrel)

Seeley Lake, MT
September 13, 2014
Robert Niese

Red Squirrels are cone specialists and create massive debris piles, called middens, in areas where they regularly eat (typically atop a stump, fallen log, or low, broad tree branch). These middens are easy to spot and are often more than a meter in width. In Western Washington, these cone middens are usually created by the Red Squirrel’s cousin, the Douglas Squirrel (T. douglasii).

Larix occidentalis “Western Larch” Pinaceae
with Bryoria sp. “Tree-hair Lichen" 

Seeley Lake, MT
September 13, 2014
Robert Niese

Larch is one of North America’s only deciduous conifers. Here in western Montana, needles are just beginning to turn yellow in mid-September.
Bryoria is a common lichen throughout the PNW and was once a common food source for more than 40 local tribes, in spite of nearly indistinguishable toxic species co-occurring throughout most of their range.